To follow up on the positive response to our “What We’re Watching” segment in the August newsletter, we invited our sustainability student interns to contribute to “What We’re Listening To” by each recommending an environmentally-themed song and an episode of a podcast. Their choices reflect the diverse interests in the office: from an environmental justice anthem by a Houston band, to an apocalyptic classic rock song, to urban wildlife, to the musings of Rice faculty, to a Generation X college radio classic, and more. Happy listening!
Creedence Clearwater Revival --“Bad Moon Rising”
"While this 1969 classic was originally written as metaphor for the hard times of the 60’s (Vietnam War, JFK and MLK assassinations, etc.), today, it can be interpreted to be literally about climate change. The lyrics 'I see earthquakes and lightnin' // I see those bad times today' tell me a story about the earthquakes in Haiti (2010 - 316,000 dead), Japan (2011 - 18,000 dead or missing), or Nepal (2015 - 8,000 casualties). The lyrics 'I hear hurricanes a blowing // I know the end is coming soon' reminds me of Hurricane Sandy (2012 - $75 billion in damage) or Hurricane Patrica (2015 - 2nd most intense tropical cyclone on record worldwide). Although the intent of the song wasn’t about climate change, the lyrics reflect our current state and the anticipation of worse things to come if we don’t do anything to alleviate the anthropogenic impacts. The lyrics 'Looks like we're in for nasty weather // One eye is taken for an eye' is a way of stating that we, as humans, are harming the earth and as a result, the earth is fighting back with climate change." - Veronica Johnson, Sustainability Intern.
Joni Mitchell--“Big Yellow Taxi”
"Joni Mitchell somehow synthesizes the two most influential environmentalist books, Rachel Carson’s 'Silent Spring' and Jane Jacobs’ 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities,' into some catchy stanzas fit for a Counting Crows cover. It’s a really funny song if you enjoy satire-- 'They took all the trees // And put them in a tree museum' --but listen closely and you’ll hear it’s a lighthearted song about serious environmental issues pervading the late-1960s zeitgeist. For instance, the lyrics 'Hey farmer, farmer // Put away the DDT now // Give me spots on my apples // But leave the birds and the bees' parallels Carson’s demand for eradicating pesticides. Mitchell wrote this song when urban sprawl came under scrutiny, where paving 'paradise [to] put up a parking lot' was normal in many American cities (Houston being the poster child for such planning). The chorus leaves the audience with a foreboding question 'Don’t it always seem to go // That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?'" - Geneva Vest, Sustainability Intern.
The Wheel Workers--“Chemicals”
"So many political songs fall flat because they push their message above all else, including musical quality. However, 'Chemicals' does not fall into this trap. It is simply a wonderfully composed song with subversively bright melodies accompanying lyrics about corporate exploitation of the environment and the irony of medicating people to treat environmental health problems that never should have existed in the first place. The Wheel Workers are a great local band speaking about injustices they see in their city and beyond, and I can only hope their growing audience includes an oil exec or two." - Ethan Haisuk, Sustainability Intern.
Pink Floyd--“Learning to Fly”
"Lead singer David Gilmour wrote the lyrics to 'Learning to Fly' to describe his experiences as a licensed pilot. Along with an introspective tone, the lines paint a bird’s-eye view of the surroundings within an airplane. Whenever I fly, I am repeatedly astonished and fascinated at the world beneath-- the veined rivers, the open fields, the forests hugging mountain valleys. The best sunsets are amidst the white cotton candy clouds and, as the song states, I find it difficult to 'keep my eyes from the circling sky.' Although this song isn't explicitly about sustainability, its imagery and theme entice you (as an 'earth-bound misfit') to appreciate and recognize the vastness of the earth's beauty from a lofty perspective. I recommend a listen the next time you are able to gaze out an airplane's window." - Sophia Erhard, Sustainability Intern.
Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas--“Make a Wave”
"This song is an environmentally conscious tune produced by Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato with the Disney Channel to promote sustainability and awareness for the consequences, both negative and positive, of our actions. Although I first heard this song many years ago, it has stuck with me because it was the first time as a child that I can remember being conscious of the repercussions of my actions. The lyrics do not blatantly say 'recycle' or 'protect the ocean,' but rather inspire a younger generation to see that 'the smallest of things can power the strongest hurricane' and 'make a wave (of change)' in this world through the simplest of actions. Practicing sustainability doesn’t just have to be a task of the mature generation, but rather can start at the hearts of younger kids that will grow up with better awareness. It also helps that famous celebrity idols like Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas endorse such a cause and encourage their fans to go out and make a difference." - Neha Goel, Sustainability Intern.
R.E.M--“Fall on Me”
"I can’t let the interns have all the fun! As a music junkie, I have a song that I’d like to share. Thirty years ago this summer, R.E.M. released what was arguably their best album: Lifes Rich Pageant (they deliberately left out the apostrophe in the album title). Up until this album, the band’s songs were often impenetrable, with lead singer Michael Stipe mumbling the lyrics, making their meaning impossible to decipher. Their album liner notes did not contain printed lyrics; there was no World Wide Web to turn to for reference. Each song was a mystery, and fans would spend hours arguing with each other, trying to interpret the lyrics and meanings of the band’s songs. It was then a complete shock when the video for the song 'Fall on Me' – the first single from Lifes Rich Pageant –featured the lyrics printed unambiguously in large capital letters. 'Fall on Me' is a song in part about what was a pressing environmental issue at that time: acid rain. Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from cars, power plants, factories, and other sources had caused rain to become acidic, which in turn killed fish and trees and caused steel structures to corrode, especially in the eastern third of the United States. Thankfully, in 1989, three years after the song’s release, the US Congress passed a series of amendments to the Clean Air Act, leading to a significant reduction in acid rain-causing emissions at a fraction of the cost initially predicted to comply with the regulations. 'Fall on Me' is considered one of R.E.M.’s greatest hits. I hope you enjoy it." - Richard Johnson, Sustainability Director.
"Eco-Ology is an hour long Houston public radio show every Tuesday at 3 p.m. on KPFT 90.1 FM. Eco-Ology features conversations with solution based citizens from a variety of environmentally-related organizations, focusing on ecological issues and their interdependent relationships. Earlier in August, Jim Blackburn, a former professor of mine, was the guest speaker. He touched on Houston-relevant environmental concerns such as climate change, economic sustainability, and hurricanes. He even read some of his environmentally-themed poems about nature of the Houston area!" - Veronica Johnson, Sustainability Intern.
99 Percent Invisible--“Unseen City”
"True to its name, every episode of 99 Percent Invisible takes an in-depth look at one subject of truly incredible design typically invisible to the untrained eye, as good design ought to be. Subjects range from single inventions taken for granted, to buildings with a hidden history, to unrealized utopian towns, to worldwide processes that we’ve never noticed. The 'Unseen City' episode highlights the nature in cities that we often turn into background noise: squirrels, pigeons, and weeds nudging their way into our concrete jungle. The narrator and guest speaker marvel at the survival skills of urban flora and fauna--some useful, some elegant, some just gross--and explore the 'how come?' of this symbiosis with the city. Every episode brings curiosity and fascination to our overlooked environments and inventions." - Geneva Vest, Sustainability Intern.
Cultures of Energy: The Energy Humanities Podcast--“Ep. #22, Iceland!”
"If you didn’t know, Rice University has a resident podcast. Well, actually we have a few, including a Rice Athletics podcast, but in the sustainability realm, the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) represents us well with their 'Cultures of Energy' podcast. Anthropology professors Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe serve as the hosts, and their thoughtful interviews and quirky banter really bring the program to the level of some of the best podcasts out there. As someone who has traveled to Iceland, I particularly enjoyed a recent episode in which the team visits the country and speaks with an Icelandic politician and an urban planner about the intersections of renewable energy, tourism, and urban design." - Ethan Haisuk, Sustainability Intern.
This is the Nature of Cities--“Some Birds Love Cities”
"At the core of 'This is The Nature of Cities' is the idea that 'city design with nature at the center is key to urban resilience, sustainability, and livability.' Where and how we inhabit our spaces contributes to the bond we feel with our surrounding environments. This podcast explores this relationship by offering interviews with researchers and leaders interested in the ever-accelerating efficiency and excitement of sustainable cities. The episodes are short (around 15 minutes) and supplemented with lively sound effects. The most recent episode, 'Some Birds Love Cities,' brought up a term that I personally had not heard of: acoustic ecology. This term and other enlightening ideas weave their ways into the fabric of this podcast at a moment in time when the urbanized world seeks creative, concrete solutions." - Sophia Erhard, Sustainability Intern.
Costing the Earth--“New York’s Big Green Clean”
"Recently I listened to the BBC Radio: Costing the Earth podcast titled 'New York's Big Green Clean.' My dad actually came across this podcast series and sent it to me after I decided to study environmental engineering early into my freshman year. This podcast series goes into depth on a broad range of many different environmental issues but this one episode stuck out to me particularly because I am very interested in the emergence of 'green infrastructure.' This podcast focused on the problems New York City and other metropolitan areas face when sewage overflows into the surrounding rivers and lakes. When it rains heavily in New York, for example, the storms oversaturate the city’s sewage system, causing sewage to enter into the Hudson River and spill into New York Harbor. In this episode, BBC Radio focused on how these pollutants can harm the oyster industry. While in the past years New York City has used 'grey' infrastructure to assuage the problem, recently there has been a drive to use 'green' infrastructure instead. Green infrastructure implies use of rooftop gardens, porous sidewalks and streets, and green inlets around the city to help redirect water to the ground instead of piping. Surprisingly, these types of measures have helped reduce waste spills tremendously faster than any other grey infrastructure. I find it truly amazing how a big city is uniting to improve its environments." - Neha Goel, Sustainability Intern.
This American Life--“Garbage”
"I first discovered the radio show This American Life while on a road trip in 1998, and it was completely unlike anything else on the radio at the time. As a GenX-er, to my ears the show brought much-needed wit, irreverence, and irony to the then staid world of public radio journalism. For those who haven’t listened to the show before, each episode features a different theme, supported in a series of segments called 'acts.' This particular episode is about an environmental issue that is as old as civilization itself: garbage. The first act takes the listener on a trash route in New York City, where garbagemen provide a street-level view of trash collection and the associated perils in their city. The next act takes the listener to Mexico, as author Luis Alberto Urrea and his 14-year old son visit friends who happen to live atop a garbage dump. The final act returns the listener to New York City, where garbage collection and organized crime were synonymous until a chance encounter provided an NYPD detective with the opportunity to bust the Mafia’s billion-dollar solid waste and recycling monopoly." - Richard Johnson, Sustainability Director.